Basics: SME Alignment

Nothing causes chaos for proposal managers like content that is incomplete, non-compliant, unresponsive, confusing, far too long—and/or late.

In most cases, content is drafted by subject matter experts (SMEs). Although they have the needed technical knowledge, few SMEs are natural writers. Add the fact that SMEs typically handle proposal assignments in addition to their “day jobs,” and it’s no surprise draft content is often less than stellar.

It’s safe to assume SMEs would rather get content right on the first draft and avoid the frustration of multiple rewrites and last-minute marathons. The solution is tools that can guide them to better results.

Giving SMEs the tools they need

Instead of simply circulating the RFP and assignments to SMEs with deadlines for content, prepare for and conduct an in-person kickoff.  Use the kickoff to provide guidance and clarity on the following:

  • Requirements and scope: Describe the project requirements and scope for each of the response sections. Explain why the contract is both important and winnable.
  • Strategy: Provide the proposal strategy described in last week’s post. For maximum relevance to content developers, explain how the strategy can be expressed in each major section.
  • Structure: Provide section outlines as an aid to organizing content. Breaking content requirements into half-page or one-page chunks will make drafting more approachable for SMEs, improve consistency in multi-company projects, and help drafters work to page limits. Encourage SMEs to suggest graphics to visualize important aspects of their content.
  • Style conventions: Provide a proposal style guide containing general guidance on plain language writing, short forms for the prospect and the project, how to refer to project partners, subcontractors and reference projects and how to handle acronyms, abbreviations, numbers and symbols, etc.
  • Workflow and protocols: Explain when, how and to whom drafts should be submitted, including the file management platform and versioning rules.

Distribute this information in hard copy, so team members can make notes during the kickoff. Be sure to schedule ample time for questions.

Set expectations at kickoff

The proposal kickoff is the place to motivate, inform and direct SMEs. Like an army going into battle, SMEs need to understand the proposal is worth winning, that there’s a plan for success, their roles, management expectations and next steps.

Some proposal managers frame the information described above as an author contract that each SME enters into for the duration of the proposal. This framing adds weight to the guidance and to the importance of meeting deadlines.

The next step is to maintain the momentum created at kickoff through close management.

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